And the day God breathed upon your still life, stirring into being the green leaf and the flower, bud upon the branch and light
upon your soul. Here you felt the earth’s air on your petals and your leaves, and squinted into sunlight, gazing high for heaven
until you felt the gardener’s hand gently turning soil and soul, and nurturing you, bud in radiant sun.
Cascading rain absorbed in warm earth turning, heaven of fragrance. What is that sound in the wind and dazzling light?
Oh, the sweet sound of your delight in God. Sometimes it is like the sound of running laughter.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Old Growth Forests and the Quiet of the Ancient

It seemed like only a few days ago that I was running in Vancouver BC, and now I was standing at the trail entry to Bridle Trails State Park near Seattle, Washington. I had seen it on the maps. It looked intriguing – and it was; the same lofty pines reaching into the heavens. Looking up I tried to take in the forest canopy far above, holding out the light, misty rain with an intimate coolness. To take it in, took my breath away; a vast and ancient covering. There just are no words to convey being in this ancient place. I seemed suspended in time. Then the trails beckoned me. It was 3:30pm Monday, 19 October 2009 and I was on the trails. Over the next hour and 50 minutes (1:50) I covered 6.84 miles ascending 3252 feet and descending 3199 for a humbling pace of 16:10 minutes per mile. But this was fine by me, I was here to enjoy this beautiful place and soak up God’s natural wonders afresh. Dashing among the ferns and the old stumps of long ago, I breathed in the fragrance of the woods. And the quiet; oh, the treasured, hallowed quiet of these massive, ancient forests. At one point I came to a large clearing in the trees of about 150 feet in across. I felt like I was in the huge hall of a cathedral, the spires rising into the heavens, the silence across the huge open space, and a hallowed atmosphere hanging in the magical air. All this was further heightened by the autumn colors bursting richly into view. As I emerged from the trees and headed for my car, I felt as if I’d just come from a prayer time with God. The run was good and the atmosphere was deeply moving. I came away with a renewed clarity that God, my God, the Lord of the heavens and the earth – He had made it all; and I had just been with Him in His beautiful creation. He was everywhere.

During the week my colleagues suggested another place for running. Friday I headed for Saint Edwards State Park. I got to the place about noon, and had only time for an hour-long run before taking off to the airport. So off I went. This park was also stunning in its ancient beauty and rich forest coverings, the ferns and underbrush, the splay of fall colors and the high-over-head canopy of leaves, the trails twisting along a natural flow of the land, first winding through the trees, and then descending, descending, descending until I stood on the shore of Lake Washington. A quick check on the time, and I was burning up the steep incline and dashing along the trails that I had just covered going the other way. In the initial stage of my run I had maintained an active though not crazy pace. Now I was pushing the clock and needed to make swift tracks. I noticed that even though I was really cruising as I came out of the woods heading for my car, I could not ignore the glory that hangs – it seems always to hang – in these forest lands. In 57 minutes I covered 3.87 miles for a pace of 14:43. I had ascended 2614 feet and descended 2621. I think these woods have made my heart a little bigger. In some ways, God seems closer still to me – having been in these old-growth forests.

It is a good thing to look long and quietly at the world that God has made. I am so glad that I can run them and experience these places, taste these wonders, these declarations of His glory and magnificence. These were old-growth forests, ancient and deeply beautiful in their glory. And yet they pale beside their maker. If these woods and their delight can take my breath away, what shall become of me? God’s glory is immeasurably greater and more wonderful. If I were not infinitely loved, I would be afraid. But I trust Him wholly. These runs have shown me ancient forests. And yet it is the Ancient of Days that I run after. It is Him that I seek. Will you come? Let’s run hard and true. It is not the woods that call to us, it is the Lord Himself.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Marathons, Trails, and Immortality

Sunday the 4th of October was an almost perfect marathon running day. I had the opportunity to catch a ride with Jeff, a fellow marathoner, early in the morning. We headed into Minneapolis to the starting area for our run. We were both looking for great experiences and got to there in plenty of time. I dressed in shorts, a singlet, and gloves. The temperature at race start was hovering around 45.2F and climbed modestly over my run to 54.6F, a light north breeze averaging 7.5 mph. Somewhere along the way, we encountered a very light mist-like rain lastly only 20 minutes or so - refreshing. At a little over 10 miles Jeff drifted on ahead of me, and I was glad for him. I settled into a slower pace and moved along. For whatever reason the remaining 16 miles required serious determination. My mind and body complained constantly. I’ve run a few marathons, so the distance was not new. But on that day, in that place I was really struggling. It was good for me to have to fight for it. I need that. I need to feel the reach and the effort in order to truly value the prize. My chip time was 5:14; one of my slowest. But that’s fine for me. After a fantastic burger and fries (Whoa, yeah!), I headed home for a shower, and then dashed to the airport - I was heading to Vancouver, BC.

Working in Vancouver BC the following week, a colleague asked on Monday, “So you run a little? We go out on Wednesdays for a little run on the trails… You want join us?” I could hardly believe my ears. How perfect! But could I run on my tired marathon legs? Then, how could I pass up a wonderful trail run? What a blessing! I said, “Yes! I’d love to. Just tell me where to be.” The next day Paul supplied me with maps to get me to the meeting point of the group. Wednesday after work I made my way to the location on the map – “the corner store”, and met up with my friend Paul and the other members of this hardy band of runners – another Paul, Jen, Bob, Sue, and Michelle. There were seven of us altogether and off we went into the Lynn Canyon Park on the Baden-Powell trail that tracks along the edge of Lynn Creek - incredible beauty from my first steps; a high woodland canopy alive with birds and other wildlife. At the outset the group was moving at about 9:30 minute per mile. A healthy pace for me on my just-a-few-days-ago marathon legs, but I thought to myself – “Hey, let’s go!” The massive trees and lovely forest trails interspersed with rock beds, twisting roots and branches, and the typical undulations of a woodland trail - every breath a fragrant blessing, every sight a glorious declaration. We were running through a wonderland of glory. This was all that I imagined and so much more. By the time we made our turnaround point, night had fallen and we were in near darkness. I had been cautioned to bring a headlamp. As we set our return direction I did not have time to get my headlamp ready, and just set off down the trail. In the dark as the twists and roots and boulders threatened to crash me, I was eventually forced to simply stop in the total darkness and get my headlamp going. Yeah, now I could see – and off I went chasing the string of lights snaking along the trail ahead of me in the night. What a fabulous evening. In all we covered 6.91 miles in 1:26 hours (the others at a somewhat better pace). For me this was an overall pace of 12:31 with 2639 ascending/2657 descending. A very good run with new friends along the trails. Oh, and the burger I had following the run was excellent! What a perfect evening.

Several mornings later I journaled,

“This morning feeling very mortal… Many muscles are sore… But I just could not let my invitation to run trails in Vancouver BC slip away. So now I will slow for a bit and heal… I came downstairs and lay on the couch, and noticed a short time later the sun was about to break out above the trees through the front window into my face. I decided to let the sun and dappling light stir me to full wakefulness. Ah, my morning begins in thanksgiving and praise even if I do feel mortal. Yes, we are immortals and aware of the realms beyond.”

When God formed us, He made us creatures with immortal souls. We run these trails and see his handiwork, we taste His glory, and our senses come alive to His majesty. And just every so often we glimpse His eternal nature and come away speechless and overwhelmed. It is that He calls to us continually, urging us to listen with greater care and attentiveness to His love song. Perhaps King David said it best when he sang,

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!

Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together, old men and children!

Psalm 148:7-12

Our ears prick excitedly and our hearts lean forward to hear Him more clearly. Yes, we are awakened to new depths of His beauty. I was glad for the marathon and glad for the trails north of Vancouver BC. These were rich experiences for me. But to be honest, I simply run for Him. I run the trails and run the races so that I might see Him a little more clearly along the way. And my hope is that you will be there along the trails – listening with me for the voice of Him to whom we owe our very lives and the breath of our being. The great trees of Lynn Valley Canyon Park shake with His glory praising Him. May our legs run and our lips sing of His infinite worth and beauty. Oh, may we both run hard and true dancing on the winds of immortality.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I’ll See You There

As I taper into this weekend’s marathon, I’m running just to enjoy it, to love the movement, to stay loose and ready. Yesterday I laid down a simple 5 miles in 53 minutes. I am anticipating a feast of running; a good time and a happy, celebratory experience. Sure, I will struggle through some aspects and adapt myself to situations, but I have already determined to stay focused on the finish line – to complete my run, Lord willing. Yet every day I breathe I am focused on the finish line, the far country - I wrote about this a short time ago – eyes and heart fixed on the far country. So, the Twin Cities Marathon this weekend is just another of life’s warm-ups for that great day.

My father in the last few days of his life wrote a letter to the family. In it he said, “We all await that great day, I’ll see you there.” I still cry when I read his words. I weep with longing for that great day with the Lord, my Sovereign, my King. My father died many years ago, and over time my heart has been drawn with ever increasing intensity to think of that far country. I am more focused than ever on eternity. But we have trails to run and lives to live. How do we live with eternity hanging before us? King Solomon once wrote,

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11]

God has put eternity into our hearts. He has put some fragrance of heaven, some notion of the far country into our lives to quicken us; a quiet calling out as we make our way through this life on earth. On the trails as we run, we see His handiwork. As we dash along the hills, we hear creation singing to Him in bird songs and on the wild breezes; we see trees waving glorious praise to Him as they dance on the crazy, sometimes stormy, wind. And all the while He quietly beckons us to Himself, calls us to set our gaze to the far country, to His purposes and His treasures. And still there is a life to be lived and trails to run – but we do them all for Him. Yes, there are people to love, and there is laughter and joy – and sometimes sadness and grief. Yes, so many things to echo heaven’s call. Well, for the moment, I’ll just focus on that finish line out there, and I’ll run for Him, for my joy in Him. Together, let’s both run hard and true. This is the thing. Remember what my Dad said, “We all await that great day, I’ll see you there.”